That moment when I could take a left and go home or take a right and drive to Ocean Beach. Despite that I was soaking wet from rain and ready to get warm at the cozy abode, I felt yanked right to go to Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
By the time I reached the Pacific, the rain had stopped. At the last minute this morning, I decided that I’d bring my plastic sandals just in case I would land at a beach and grateful that I did. I opened my car door to a big sandy puddle. I switched out my shoes, put on my hat so I wouldn’t eat my hair from the wind and made my way down the sandy slope at Sloat Avenue and the Great Highway.
The clouds and white-capped waves were dramatic and the wind was brisk. It was stunning. What better time to go to the beach? It was just me, a few fisherman and dog-walkers – not even any surfers.
About ten minutes later, an audible and loud, “whoaaaa” comes out of me. I know that at some point, my beach cleanup discoveries would be about the last thing I’d ever want to see. I never forgot the time when grandpa told me how he found a torso on Stinson Beach in the 1930s. I’ve (almost) grown numb to the disposable diapers, monofilament fishing line with hooks and dog poop bags, but nothing comes close to hypodermic needles. Not only does this type of trash take a minimum of 600 years to photo-degrade, the biohazard level tops the list of the worst of the worst. It is a hazardous combination of plastic, metal, narcotics (most likely) and bodily fluid.
I guess the needles I have found before were preparing me for this one. The first needle I found at Montara State Beach, the actual needle was missing, the second one at Pacifica Beach had a lid, but this latest one, the needle was exposed and I could visibly see blood. Good thing I am not scared of blood or needles but it still really grossed me out.
I am really not prepared to handle such biohazard waste but there is absolutely no way, I’d feel good about leaving an exposed hypodermic needle on the beach where unleashed dogs roam, children play and wildlife reside. I put the hypodermic needle in my paper bag and continued on, piling bits of trash on top of it to put it to rest.
Heebie jeebies is about what I felt the rest of the twenty or so minutes I spent picking up litter at the beach. “Fear flashes” would graze my mind of accidentally touching the needle and would have to think of beautiful, happy thoughts to clear my mind and feel clean again. Carrying this hypodermic needle felt like I was carrying a body part – totally gruesome and disgusting!
It did not take me long for me to think about how there is someone in San Francisco who used the needle. I felt bad that this person does not see another way to live that is much more full of life than short-lived heroin. I do not feel anger toward him or her for littering, but I feel much pity. The level of disconnect for reality has gone so far for this person, that it is so not in the same realm as dog poop bags of careless dog owners.
Receiving a much needed mental break, I walked along the shoreline and watched a seagull dine on fresh crab cuisine. But for the rest of the hike back to my car, I thought about how I wished the ambulance that I saw parked in the lot a few weeks ago – with paramedics on lunch break – were there to help me dispose the needle properly, but of course I was not that lucky this time. I thought about how I could take the needle to a local hospital, but the thought of putting it in my car grossed me out. I could have sworn I heard a garbage truck pulling up to the parking lot earlier, but thought that they’d probably care less. I ended up padding the needle within the landfill trash that I collected within the paper bag and put it in the garbage can. It isn’t optimal but it was the best I could do given my limited resources to deal with it.
When I got home, I emailed the representative for the San Francisco National Parks Service for his recommendation on what to do in these situations. I haven’t heard back yet, but what?… give me some sort of contraption to put needles in to deliver to a special location? I think I’ve inherited a certain level of responsibility with beach cleanups that I really did not anticipate. Even though I cannot stand the thought of putting needles in my car – even in a special carrying case – I will do what the National Parks Service advises me to do. We shall see.
I drove home sending out special prayers and feeling rather solemn, but at least I can rest easy knowing the needle is no longer on the beach.
The Needle Files…